Duties of Nigerian Lawyers
In spite of what they might think of themselves, Nigerian lawyers (and lawyers worldwide) are in fact human and are capable of making mistakes. In the discharge of their duties, Nigerian lawyers are bound by a high code of ethics and professional conduct which they must adhere to. Nigerian lawyers are bound by the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) . The RPC was created in 2007 and in general covers things like their duty to the profession, duty to clients, duty to courts, duty to other lawyers etc.
For the purposes of this article, we will focus on some the duties to clients which Nigerian lawyers are bound by:
- Nigerian lawyers are duty bound to devote their attention, energy and expertise to the service of their client and, to act in a manner consistent with the best interest of the client. So if for instance, as a client, you engage a Nigerian lawyer who accepts the brief and takes no action on it for a very long time, the lawyer is in breach of their professional duty towards you, the client.
- Nigerian Lawyers must keep their clients informed about the progress of a matter or cause they are handling on behalf of the client, and shall consult them in matters which are beyond the discretion of the lawyer. So, if for instance you engage a Nigerian lawyer to defend a case in court, and the judge gives a ruling on the matter, and weeks later the lawyer has not informed you about this (without a reasonable excuse), he/she is in breach of the RPC.
- Nigerian lawyers must inform their client promptly when he/she knows the claim or defence of the client is hopeless. What this means basically is if your lawyer knows your case is hopeless, then he should advise you of it and you can then take alternate steps to deal with the situation. For instance, if a business partner cancels a contract and you want to sue for damages, if the lawyer is well aware that you have no basis to sue and that the case would probably fail, then he/she shouldn’t let you go through the process of suing the business partner knowing fully well what the likely out come will be. This would be in breach of the RPC.
- Nigerian lawyers must be present in court or be properly represented in court throughout the proceedings. So, if your case is to be held on a particular day, and your lawyer does not show up or arrange to be represented in court, then he/she is in breach of the RPC and has failed in their duty to you as a client.
- Your lawyer must not advise, counsel, or direct you as a client to engage in conduct which the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent.
- Lawyers are not to handle handle legal matters which they know or ought to know that they are not competent to handle, without associating themselves with a lawyer who is competent to handle it, unless the client objects. For instance, a lawyer who agrees to advise a client on an Independent Public Offering (IPO), who has never handled one before or been specifically trained in the processes and issues which may arise, has failed in his duty to his client under the RPC.
- Finally, negligence in the handling of a client’s affairs may amount to professional misconduct, depending on the details, and it is against the rules for a lawyer to attempt to exonerate himself from or limit his liability to his client for his personal malpractice or professional misconduct.
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